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Meet Future Climate Leader: Kawika Pegram

September 18, 2023

· 4 min read
The Elemental Team

2022 EDICT Intern Kawika Pegram cut his teeth on climate action as a community organizer. This sparked his determination to pursue real, lasting policy change.

Born in the Philippines and raised primarily in Hawai‘i, Kawika Pegram has always lived in island communities along striking coastlines. Striking both for their beauty — and for the grave and imminent threat posed by sea-level rise and coastal erosion. It’s why climate change has always felt personal to him.

“At a fundamental level, it is a crisis and it’s happening right now and affecting millions of people,” he said.

When he was a junior at Waipahu High School on Oahu in 2019, he became a youth organizer for the Climate Strike movement, joining more than 60 student leaders across the U.S. who lead school climate strikes modeled after the tactics of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Kawika founded the Hawai‘i Youth Climate Coalition in March 2019 and mobilized more than 7,500 young people to attend protests, submit testimony and engage in civic action across Oahu, Maui, Molokai and the Big Island.

Yet despite the incredible community response Kawika saw from his organizing efforts, he didn’t see this energy translate to policy implementation. This realization lit a fire under him, leading him to pursue an interdisciplinary degree in Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics and Government (CLEG) with a double major in Justice and Law at American University. “I just want to take the energy we get from building social movements, and turn it into something that could really change people’s lives,” he said.

EDICT is intentionally pulling people from communities that haven’t been represented yet as well as they should have been, and pulling them into the space and giving them the opportunities to make their voices heard.

Kawika secured an internship as a Policy Research Fellow at Blue Planet Foundation in 2022, through Elemental’s Empowering Diverse Climate Talent (EDICT) internship program. He dove right in supporting the foundation’s mission to make Hawai‘i a model for global climate solutions — conducting research on 50 pieces of statewide clean energy legislation and organizing an energy candidate forum for six Hawai‘i gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates on the state’s largest news network.

Kawika credits EDICT with giving him a multifaceted view of what a career in climate looks like — and providing valuable opportunities for a diverse group of aspiring climate professionals to get connected and speak out.

“EDICT has been able to kind of accommodate all the things I wanted to do, from graphic design to social media planning to policy research to working with youth,” he said. “EDICT is intentionally pulling people from communities that haven’t been represented yet as well as they should have been, and pulling them into the space and giving them the opportunities to make their voices heard.”

Today, most of Kawika’s work centers on energy — including a stint at Energy Future Initiatives, which is dedicated to accelerating the clean energy transition, and an internship with Hawai‘i Senator Brian E. Schatz earlier this year where he worked on a $540M joint appropriations sign-on letter to fund offices within the Department of Energy.

And while Kawika is passionate about energy, more than anything he’s an interdisciplinary thinker determined to build systems that work for everyone — whether that means keeping the lights on for families who can’t afford their electricity bills, or creating intentional and equitable organizational structures. He’s big on designing self-sustaining systems that continue to work long term and adapt as new variables come and go, and for each of the initiatives he leads, he wants them to have a life beyond him.

“The main goal of any organizer should be to make yourself replaceable,” Kawika said. “I left and went to DC for college, but Hawai‘i Youth Climate Coalition is now on its third executive director. I wanted to create an organization that could self-sustain, long after I’m gone.”

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Are you an aspiring climate professional like Kawika or an employer interested in empowering diverse climate talent? Sign up to get involved with the EDICT Internship program.